OXFORD — A group of 10 drivers, including one from the Pacific Northwest, gathered on a quiet Oxford Plains Speedway frontstretch Wednesday to talk about their chances to win Sunday’s 43rd annual H.P. Hood Oxford 250 at the track.

They represented just a small percentage of drivers and teams who will enter the race, try to etch their name in the history books and collect the guaranteed winner’s share of $25,000.

“We’re going to have at least 60 cars on Sunday who have entered,” Oxford Plains owner and Pro All Stars Series president Tom Mayberry of Naples said. “I think we’re going to have a really, really good field.”

That’s been one of the staples of the Oxford 250 over the last few seasons. While car counts don’t approach the century mark the way they used in the heyday of Maine’s largest sporting event, the teams that do enter carry championships and wins from touring series and local Saturday night short tracks across the United States and Canada.

Mike Rowe, of Turner, one of only three drivers in history to win three Oxford 250s, believes the field this year could be as solid top to bottom as ever.

“You’ve got to get in, but there are 15 really good cars out there,” said Rowe, who owns 151 career feature wins at Oxford. “I think it’s sorted out a lot of them. A lot of guys who don’t think they can make it probably aren’t even coming. It’s not like it used to be when we’d have 110 or 115 cars trying to qualify, but anyone who gets into the show has got a shot to win.”

Rowe was joined at the race’s annual Media Day by defending Oxford 250 champion Glen Luce, of Turner; six-time PASS champion Johnny Clark, of Hallowell; and two-time Oxford 250 winner Travis Benjamin. Spencer Robbins, of Dixfield, who won the race in 2003, was also among those in attendance.

The driver who made the longest trip to the track was Garrett Evans, a four-time NASCAR Northwest Series champion from East Wenatchee, Washington. Evans drove 49 hours to compete for PASS National Series points and make his first Oxford 250 attempt.

Qualifying rounds begin at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

• • •

Things are different this year for Luce, who entered last year’s Oxford 250 with only one career Super Late Model victory — in a weekly race at Oxford years earlier — and returns this time around as the reigning champ.

“I was surprised. I really was,” Luce said of last year’s win. “You go so long without success, being at the top it’s almost like I climbed Mount Everest. I had to talk to myself the first few laps after I took the lead last year. I had to remind myself that it was just a race car and a race track, and I just needed to hit my marks and drive the car.”

Last year, Luce said he went from being happy to just be a part of the show where he grew up racing to wanting to be in the hunt for victory by the race’s end. With that accomplished, Luce is confident despite being sixth in the PASS standings this year with just two top five finishes in 11 races.

“We know now what the car needs to feel like in order to get the same result,” Luce said. “Obviously, you need a little bit of luck with the (qualifying) draw and attrition that can play a part, but we’ll try and find that feel we’re looking for Friday in practice and go from there.”

Certainly, after topping the speed charts in the final Oxford 250 practice a year ago, he’ll have plenty of interested eyes on his No. 7 car again this weekend.

“To be honest, I kind of like sneaking in under the radar,” he said. “Having all the attention, I don’t really care for that. I enjoy it for the team, but it’s hard to get used to it.”

• • •

Hermon driver Mike Hopkins made his Oxford 250 debut last year, qualifying for the race in his second attempt.

The former Speedway 95 racer — who scored his first career PASS win at Star Speedway in Epping, New Hampshire, earlier this season — has struggled on the flatter tracks at Oxford and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. But Hopkins, 31, believes going back to the setup he utilized in 2015 could pay off this weekend.

He spent most of the middle stages of last year’s Oxford 250 racing with and around the leaders.

“This weekend we’re going back to what we had,” said Hopkins, who won the Long John 150 at Unity Raceway last season. “I’m optimistic for the weekend, for sure.”

Like many Maine drivers, the Oxford 250 remains a special one for Hopkins.

“I think I’ve come to every Super Late Model race at the 250 since I was 15 years old,” he said. “It’s quite a historical race. To be part of it for the first time last year, it’s hard to find words to describe it. People just don’t understand what it means. It was pretty cool.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5648

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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